The Faceless Birthday Bash at Chuck-E-Cheese
Copyright 1996 Michael Thibault
About a dozen Cacophanists consolidated at the Northridge Chuck-E-Cheese one
fine Sunday afternoon last month, by all appearence just another group of
gift encumbered suburban zombies blithely attending a birthday for a little
boy under the reservation "Al Riley." But when Reverend Al finally shuffle
entered in costume, that this tiny tot was either side of thirty-five didn't
faze the Cheese-oids as much as his ensemble. For his entire head was
swathed in white gauze, taped and tied from the neck up until he resembled
nothing less than an egyptian mummy or Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man."
Arterial bluish stage make-up scarred the visible epidermis of his eyelids
and lips teasing the most discriminating gawker seductively through the only
open breaches in the dressing. The effect was like a melon sized boil,
pus-slick and corporeal white, planted atop a buttoned fifties plaid sport
shirt and torn chino's, presumably blinded in a tragic mishap out of a 50's
science experiment gone bad.
His appearance into the crowd had the same effect as shooting the ceiling in
a bank or using the word, "Oops," anywhere in a nuclear power facility and
reminded me that a long, long time ago, dynamite had indeed won the first
Nobel prize. As if struck by divine intervention the eyes of children,
Cheese-oids and Fanny Packer wearing parents locked into non-blinking mode.
Each smile faded and every pallor bleached with vampiric precision, from
arm's length to the farthest corner, one by one until the ambient fun factor
had dropped fifteen decibels, like a shockwave blossoming from ground zero
and flattening everything in its path. It was as dramatic as a child's arm
sweeping a platoon of toy soldiers or supply-side economics.
Al shuffle-limped through the battlefield silence of the game room, hunched
over a carton of low-fat twinkies, nervously plucking the box and littering
the shreds behind in a snaking trail of nervous humiliation. He was also
hugging a large, shaggy white-paper donkey pinata which I led by the foreleg
like a demented leash. Julia aided in elbow-steering the mummyhead, and the
three of us clopped pathetically, relentlessly, e n d l e s s l y like
post-punk wise men looking for an ethereal forty-watt light bulb in a crib.
In the crowds stillness we were surfing that edge where it had yet to be
determined whether we'd pushed the envelope too far; much as a water
balloon, filled past its recommended pressure, jiggles
ominously under the faucet. At any moment I expected a child to burst and
begin shrieking in a psychotic snap that would jump from tot to tot like an
explosive chain of lethal transmission, crashing & burning their fragile
intellects with the subtlety of Ebola in extreme amplification. The prospect
of Chuck-E-Cheese-Corp. kicking our asses in a half-decade long judicial
battle paled in comparison to the imminent and mountainous psychotherapy
bills we'd be levied for the rest of our garnished minimum-waged lives.
Especially if any therapist paraded a Ken-sized doll of "Al Riley" and asked
the hot potato, "Show me where Al touched you," and each and every fucking
rug rat pointed to the brain. Trust me, when a child fingers you accusingly
and babbles something along the lines, "The monster touched my soul," your
only chance is an L.A. based trial and Marta Waller giving commentary spin
six hours daily on KTLA. And then maybe -- maybe -- you can make bail and
abscond to Ojos Negros by nightfall. A place where the beer may be warm but
kill anybody you want 'cause.... well, there's nothing else better to do.
I mentally defrosted some contempt in anticipation of leaving this joint a
charred and smoking ruin. There wasn't gonna be any V-Chip for this
nightmare, ya fuckers. But to our surprise the children accepted the brutal
vision with the vapor weight of a cable channel, oohing and ahhing his
passing like he was the White Power Ranger or something. Hell, he coulda
been. He was bandaged as one would expect a man after having crushed a dixie
cup against his forehead -- With a sledgehammer. Instead, it was the parents
who stared, mortified, mouths frozen agape in horror. Having apparently
tripped the circuit breakers in their frontal lobes they were incapacitated
beyond covering their own eyes much less their children and reduced to
producing scraps of handwritten directions and double-checking their right
turns, Northridge and Bosnia having the same number of syllables. Hell,
stranger things've happened.
We hobbled to our table in a perverse banquet room interrupted every ten
minutes by the unintelligible squawk of the animatronic band on stage -- the
kind of non-union, scab robots that keep Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland on his
paternalistic toes. Supposedly the jingles are top forty sing-alongs
reworked into crass advertisements for the Chuck-E-Cheese empire but one
would be hard pressed to name any of the tunes given the unintelligible
squawk. A volume request only raised the bombast from a gibber to a squelch
which was just as well for as far as I could tell the quintet hadn't
demonstrated any rehearsal chops since their aborted Cheesalooza gig
earlier in the winter.
"SIT HERE, AL!" I shouted, as if his hearing was damaged along with the
twelve layers of facial skin. That's method acting, baby -- Ya can't teach
that. As our party divvied seats a funereal pall blanketed the neighboring
table like russian snow during the fall of Leningrad. Surrounding a plastic
cake with the name "Joshua" sharpied across the crest the entire family
imploded and the festivities seemed to solidify in the air and
fall to the ground with the hollow, muddied thump of dead starlings.
Joshua's father was singularly mortified, spiritually collapsing until all
that was left of his cognizance was a wild, wide-eyed stare, never wavering
from Al's bandage's and never, ever blinking. I'm no professional but
judging from the haunted, hardened black coals his eyes morphed into I'd say
he was somewhere north of the Da Quang Triangle relieving a particularly
nasty fragging of an army superior. So there he sat, catatonicaly, tripping
the jungle-war fantastic, his soul sandblasted to a shoe shine polish, denied
his God given right to celebrate little Josh's birth. And as Al Riley's
presence testified, for the rest of the afternoon God would be elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the waitress doled arcade tokens and presented our Faceless Boy
with a plastic travel cup shaped like Chuck-E's skull which we promptly
filled with beer. Al double-fisted the domed goblet and lipped the straw so
that it disappeared into the gauze almost surgically and slurped from the
corporate mascot's medulla oblongata with a disturbing demeanor that reminded
me of my Uncle trying to whistle without his dentures. We belatedly ordered
munchies and between the
veg-heads and the carnivore's I threw up my hands and agreed to four pizzas
of each, returning my attention to the task at hand: Disturbing the other
"AL, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY!"
"It's good that he gets out."
"WHAT'D THE DOCTOR SAY, AL?"
"You know he can hear."
"GET A SECOND OPINION, AL!"
"He looks like an advertisement for Ace bandages."
"Hey, where'd you git the beer?"
"DON'T PICK THE SCAB, AL!"
And so it went, ad lib ad nauseum rising like cartoon dialog balloons to the
ceiling where they collected en masse into tangible cells, dividing and
multiplying in the psyche of the Fanny Packers and their children, taunting
them to pack up and get the hell out of there or else. And sure enough they
did, accelerating their festivities and leaving the scene with the swiftness
of seagulls scared off a rotting sea lion carcass. When the eight pizzas
arrived it overwhelmed the dozen Cacophanists and downright frightened me.
If genitalia had appeared it would've been bacchanalian. I argued with the
Cheese-oid waitress, convincing her she had made the mistake. "Oh no, I
meant four total," I lied, mentally reviewing the Cacophony credo. I was
pretty sure they'd used the word "anarchy" somewhere and felt guiltlessly
secure in my review of the available fire exits in case it became necessary
to abandon these malcontents to labor the difference in the kitchen or worse.
¨Donde esta los banos bola? The Manager, a Goering-Goebbels type in
polyester, and already unhappy before we showed up, made the startling
announcement he'd trade the pizzas for more beer, in the mistaken
upper-management theory that fire is best doused with gasoline.
When probed by the waitress on Al's condition we replied simply that, "He
can't speak or see, but he can hear, so we'd appreciate if you'd go on with
your birthday song," as Al rammed a slice of pepperoni through his mouth slit
with the subtlety of a pile driver. Right on cue the big gray Chuck-E rat
waddled to Faceless Boy and "Ta Dah'd" itself with a mighty polyfiber paw on
the shoulder which, apparently, hid a 10cc syringe of insulin because Al
immediately shook in terror at sight of the big sewer marmot and was reduced
to violent epileptic seizures in no time. Spittle and low grade cheese
substitute bubbled and sprayed from his lips as the Reverend's pyloric valve
slammed shut audibly and his fingernails sought purchase in the linoleum
table. Julia and I grabbed Al's wrists and LAPD'd him as he shredded the
tablecloth. Deep in the mouse suit the McLaborer, presented with an
emotional emergency in progress, proceeded to Page 9, sub-section 4 of the
Big Rat Employee Manual, and opted to salve the situation by wagging his
massive, 27-inch trinitron sized head as adorably as possible. Bad move,
mouse. Welcome to the next level. Al exploded dangerously backward bringing
Julia and I along for the ride. "I think you better go!," Julia begged and
*poof* the big varmint scuttled off with the agility of Alaskan elk. I was
impressed. If I was wearing a sofa I couldn't move that fast unless there
was a lighted rocket rammed up my ass.
"THE BIG RAT'S GONE, AL!," I bellowed, leaning down on him hard. Although I
was unsuccessful returning him to his seat, I did exercise my lats
simultaneously and briefly considered lying on the ground and attempting to
chest press the lout. In the scuffle a paper leg amputated from the pinata
donkey exploding penny candy and uncooked beans. "CHRIST, AL, WOULD YOU GO
TO DISNEYLAND AND FUCK WITH MICKEY TOO? YOU'RE A GUEST, BEHAVE YOURSELF!"
Julia offered helpfully, "It's time for his medicine." But that only
accelerated the paroxysm until I roared, "GODDAMMIT AL, YOU'RE EMBARRASSING
US! CALM THE FUCK DOWN OR NO CAKE!" and broke his spirit like a neutered
sharpei. With that we all took seats and Al breast-fed the rat cup until the
straw dried the well and vacuumed air irritably. Somewhere deep in the back
of the room I heard a toddler query his mother, "What does 'fuck' mean?"
Well Kid, it's a lot like ordering eight pizzas when all you need is four.
Comprendo? I foot-swept the pinata innards under the table and picked up a
single pinto, presenting it to Al's eyeholes with the satisfaction of helping
the elderly or mentally retarded, "THIS IS A BEAN, AL. YOU EAT THEM!" But
the mummyhead would have none of it and busied himself in a fetal position.
"Kirby, wipe his mouth," I ordered, tossing the bean. As the napkin toweled
his jaw what I mistook for a slice of pizza plopped onto the tablecloth,
which when retrieved, unfolded and revealed itself to be the disfigured latex
mouthpiece. Painted and wrinkled, it resembled nothing short of decayed body
tissue. "His skin's coming off!" somebody shouted horrifically. That's when
Josh's Dad bolted to the men's room, his disappearance punctuated by Al
squeezing another twinkie until the bag burst, oozing animal lard cream and
sucking the sponge cake like a gooey popsicle. Who knows maybe the viscous
putty had anesthetic qualities, for it seemed to tranquilize him much as the
slut-killer Lenny's furry pet in "Of Mice and Men." As for Joshua's family,
they waited patiently but without reward and we never saw his slap-happy
Pappy again. I assume he'd retired to the
restroom mirror to lubricate his dry, cracking eyeballs with the liberal use
of Smart & Final sized drums of Visine and a garden hose.
At one point Al leaned his fat white bowling ball of a head over and
whispered, "I'm gonna crawl under the table!" But I wasn't sure if he meant
literally, or figuratively. At least he had it easy, the rest of us were
suffering internal hemorrhaging trying to control the laugh reflex. Cloaked
as he was I assumed he'd already smiled violently enough to swallow his ears.
I retreated to the men's room and practiced stretching my face so it wouldn't
accidently freeze in a permanent poker mask while others walked Faceless to
the arcade where he played every game as if it was a zig-zagging mosquito to
be palm swatted. While at the "refreshment bar" trying to decide between
sugared water or water with sugar our waitress appeared.
"Is it okay if Chuck-E. comes back over?," she asked helpfully.
"I know there was a problem the first time."
"Uh yeah, y'know what? Can you give us a few minutes?," I warned.
"We just gave him his medication and it takes a little bit to kick in?"
"Sure, no problem," she replied, now properly motivated, "Let me
know when you want the cake --"
"Oh, bring the cake out NOW. We need to get him home QUICK." And she
high-tailed it with the Big Rat swiftness that was the trademark of those
unsung minimum-wagers slinging pizza at Chuck-E-Cheese's.
Upon returning to our Dresden-bombed table Julia suggested gaily, "Let's
unwrap presents," with the immediate effect of a .22 caliber pistol at a
Tijuana dog race. Al leapt for the festive packages and clawed the gifts
free while I started mumbling an apology when he clutched my gratuity. "I'M
SORRY, AL. NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT... YOU KNOW. YOUR FACE!" Squeals of glee
groans and fused as Faceless Boy displayed his gift for all: A bubble pack of
plastic disguises including all the necessaries for facial replacement. To
the horror of what few partygoers we hadn't already chased away we promptly
hooked the groucho glasses, nose and mustache into Al's dressing and moored
the plastic lips into his blowhole albeit upside down. He looked like a man
that, God having created, had erased his face and started over. In pencil.
Just in case.
"LOOKY THERE, GOOD AS NEW!"
"Does anybody else think this is sick?" a Cacophanist chided.
"Listen," I defended myself, "I was told he'd just had a cut. Okay, a
deep cut. Not that his whole head was wrapped up like a dead pharaoh."
"HE CAN'T HEAR ME! LOOK AT HIM!"
"Yeah, look at 'em. He's happy," somebody offered.
"LAUGHTER"S THE BEST MEDICINE, AL!"
"He's gotta get on with his life."
"LAUGH YOURSELF TO RECOVERY!"
"He shoulda never left the hospital," Mr. Chide added.
The waitress led a squadron of Cheese-oids and a particularly unpleasant cake
to the table, stabbed with a thicket of thirty-five candles indiscriminately
fisted into the center like a quiver of arrows. "Okay, everybody ready?,"
the waitress asked after two false starts to synchronize the animatronic
band. Finally she thumbed a zippo and straightened her arm toward the cake
when suddenly Al began to rise with the determination of Frankenstein's
monster, his massive hands gripping opposite hemisphere's of the cake and
cleaving it in one colossal spattering of shortening and Betty Crocker boxed
"No! No fire!," Julia warned. "It was a fireworks accident!" she explained
to the terrified Cheese-oids, already parting like the Red Sea and becoming
dangerously excited themselves. Chuck-E himself grabbed Al's shoulder,
injecting another dangerous insulin dosage, and sending him into convulsions
at the realization he was being mounted from the rear by a walking carpet
with a nose the size of a four-slice toaster. "AHTRA BAD!" I thundered and
with that, *whoosh*, the big rat disappeared again, this time for good, and
probably to hide along with Josh's father and tremble with post-traumatic
stress syndrome DT's. Meanwhile, we wrestled Al, his pizza stained, plastic
disguised countenance, resembling nothing short of a diseased Mr. Potato
Head. Across the room, The Manager took one look at Faceless Spud Boy and
pulled the plug. Literally. Once second the puppet band's air guitaring
"Happy Birthday" and the next it's folding at the waist listlessly as the
playback recording s l o w s like molasses into a fermata.
Oh sure, they never came right out and spray painted Big Game numbers on our
backs but we were tagged nonetheless. Strangely, they didn't seem to
comprehend that it was all a gag. They still bought the bullshit, otherwise
why not eject us from the premises? I would've. Hell, this was Northridge;
you got a big mouse working tables you sure as shit gotta scattergun under
the register. And a monster one too, like the Ithaca Mag-10 Roadblocker; a
semi-automatic chambered for the mighty 10-guage shell. And although it only
holds three rounds, by the time they're gone, somebody's dead. No it was
even wierder: We were just too much trouble. And now that we'd practically
emptied the room they just as soon leave us alone, barely an audience and
waiterless, surrounded by so many empty banquet tables it may as well been a
moat. Well, what the fuck'd he expect, trading us the four pizzas for piss
hued Budweiser? At Chuck-E-Cheese's? I mean, for Christ-sakes, you know why
Hitler didn't drink? Because when he did he got mean. In my humble opinion
the entire debacle of this sociological experiment on his shoulders.
"I HAVE TO GO TO A BAPTISM, AL!," I shouted. While Al bobbed his Jackson
Pollack stained dressing I realized by the horrified audience that I couldn't
have uttered a more incomprehensibly tasteless statement on a Sunday in a
predominantly catholic Chuck-E-Cheese's. Jesus, what next? Maybe we'd shit
in the salad bar for an encore. I hadn't planned on cattle-prodding anybody
with that announcement since it was true. But they seemed so offended I said
it again, "I GOTTA GO. I'M LATE FOR A BAPTISM!" Whose? Mine? They
couldn't be sure. Hell, we could be Ku Klux Klanners. Sure, we weren't
dressed like 'em but if Al didn't look like the Grand Wizard himself from a
distance I'm a ham sandwich.
After I left the later highlights included Al's prolonged communion with the
costumed mouse. At first refusing to let go of his nose and then insisting
on "washing" his hands in the public urinal in front of the staff. And a
final bout of hysteria upon leaving, grabbing a wayward pizza on the pickup
counter which resulted in another pinata amputation and a one last great
scattering of beans.